Flood Brook’s first-time softballers discover hidden talent for the game

By Christian Avard
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Flood Brook coach Sarah Kiefer watches as her team begins its last game of the season against Mill River. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

What are the odds that a group of girls who never played softball before could learn the game on the fly and dominate their opponents? Pretty good if those girls play for Flood Brook School.

There’s no rhyme or reason to explain the team’s success. They just dominated.

The Tigers finished their season last Tuesday. They beat Manchester Elementary School, 23-4, and they finished the season with an eye-popping 9-2 record.

The team had no expectations this season. The girls just wanted to have fun and learn some skills.

Lillian Farrar beats out an infield single at the Pingree Park game.

But the team surprised themselves and they’ll have a great season to always reflect on. “I think the key to our success this year has really been the players,” Flood Brook Head Coach Sarah Kiefer said. “They gave it their best and I was very lucky to have been able to work with this group this year.”

Youth and middle school baseball and softball ebbed and flowed over the years at Flood Brook, according to Kiefer, who also serves as the Flood Brook Athletic Association President. Finding people willing to coach was a struggle and softball was also competing with other spring sports such as soccer and lacrosse.

Now that the coronavirus is slowing down and Gov. Phil Scott will be lifting Covid-19 restrictions soon, interest in spring sports has increased significantly. Especially softball.

“This is the first season for softball in 11 years I was told,” Kiefer said. “We put a feeler out to see who wanted to play and several girls expressed interest.”

Pitcher Malayla Greene warms up

In all, 12 girls played for the Flood Brook Softball Team: two sixth graders, six seventh graders and four eighth graders. Only two of them had any experience.

Malayah Greene played a season at Manchester Elementary School and Rylee Gabert, shortstop/pitcher, played softball for a season in Chester.

The team had to start somewhere. The first day of practice was a doozy.

“They didn’t know any rules,” Kiefer said with a laugh. “We did a drill. They lined up on all four bases and they throw from base-to-base. They had 24 opportunities and every time they made a good throw and a catch was one point. They went 6 for 24.”

Kiefer continued, “They didn’t know base running, they did not know what a ball or a strike was and we had to explain that. That’s where we started.”

The Tigers played their first game of the season against West Rutland Middle School and they lost 13-3. They struggled to hit the ball and West Rutland even made a triple play when two Flood Brook runners forgot to tag up.

Catcher Lily Long slides under the tag at home.

The team put the game behind them and they learned from their mistakes. The Tigers kept practicing and they won their next game against the Long Trail School, 21-13.

“We spent a lot of time on pop flies after the West Rutland game,” Kiefer said. “Then a lot of amazing things happened.”

Green Mountain Union Middle School is known for their strong softball program. But Flood Brook clobbered them in a 20-7 rout to earn their second win of the season.

Then they beat Twin Valley Middle School, 18-10, for their third straight win of the season. Two girls who had never pitched before, Gabert and Moriah Heberts, got the win.

But Green Mountain exacted revenge on the Tigers, beating Flood Brook, 17-12. But then came the the winning streak. The Tigers won their last five games of the season. They swept the second game of the series against Long Trail, 21-12; Twin Valley, 23-19; and Manchester Elementary School, 17-7 and 23-4; and they got revenge on West Rutland, their first opponents of the season, 14-13.

One of four eighth graders who played their final game for Flood Brook, Moriah Heberts (P/3rd base) receives a bouquet from the coaches

Mia Sena was the Tigers’ fielding star. She made big outs at first base including one catch where she made a long stretch to the bag against their foe Green Mountain.

Sena plays a lot of soccer throughout the year. Now, she will dedicate some of her time to playing more softball at Burr & Burton Academy. “We all care about each other … and we hate losing,” Sena said with a laugh.

Also leading the team was Malayla Greene. Destined to be the team’s pitcher, she got a head start on the season practicing with her dad. By the time the season rolled around, Greene was throwing her pitches at 50 mph and striking out batters one-by-one. “My dad has a radar gun on his smart phone,” Greene said.

But the real sport was first year catcher Lily Long. Long was on the receiving end of those 50 mph pitches. “I think she broke my thumb the first time I caught for (Malayah),” said Long. “I enjoy catching now and I want to get better at it.”

#

Name

Position

Grade

1

Ruby Kiefer

catcher/outfield

6

2

Rose Shum

Right field

6

3

Lily Long

Catcher

8

4

Malayla Greene

Pitcher

7

5

Rylee Gabert

Short/pitcher

7

6

Aleah Lawrence

2nd base

8

7

Moriah Heberts

Pitcher/3rd

8

8

Allie Aubin

3rd base

7

10

Mia Sena

1st base

7

11

Serra Zuckerman

Centerfield

7

15

Haddie Crossman

Right field

7

18

Lillian Farrar

Left field

8

Kiefer also credited the team’s success to some unsung heroes as well. Allie Aubin, third base, uncorked a hidden talent for hitting with an inside-the park home run and a grand slam against Long Trail.

Lillian Farrar and Serra Zuckerman were solid outfielders and they contributed with big hits at the plate. Lead-off hitter Aleah Lawrence played at second base and was the Tigers’ lead-off hitter. Kiefer called Lawrence the backbone component of the team.

“She’s the most coachable kid I’ve ever worked with,” Kiefer said. “She can now make good throws and easy catches in the field.”

But if you ask the players what really made the season special, it was their grit to succeed. “We weren’t feeling it at first,” said Greene, “but then we came together and started communicating better. From where we started, it’s much better now.”

“We were really compatible,” Long said. “It was all about working together, supporting each other and being considerate. We were not out there competing against one another. We always had each others backs.”

Sena agreed. “We were all dedicated. We all cared about each other and we didn’t like losing. But really it was about the thrill of the game, getting the outs, and playing with the girls.”

After a rocky first inning, the Flood Brook Tigers won their final game, against Mill River, by a score of 11 to 10.

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About the Author: Christian Avard has been a journalist for more than 15 years, having written for Vermont publications such as The Deerfield Valley News, The Rutland Herald, The Commons and The Chester Telegraph. He also edited The Message for the Week and The Vermont Standard. Avard, who currently lives in Montpelier, is also a sports correspondent with The Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus.

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  1. Sheryl Fratino says:

    As Moriah Heberts grandmother and a supporter of FloodBrook’s brand new softball team I would like to wish the coaches, Sarah and Jill and the team a huge congratulations.